Early Communism in Proverbs

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1

“All things of friends are common”

“Τὰ τῶν φίλων κοινά, that is, ‘All things of friends are held in common.’ Since there is nothing more beneficial or more celebrated than this proverb, it seemed right to begin my review of sayings from here with a favorable omen. Indeed, if this saying were fixed in human souls in the way that is fixed in every mouth, certainly our lives would be disburdened of a great deal of their suffering. From this proverb, Socrates came to the conclusion that all things belonged to good men no less than to the gods. He claimed, first, that the gods possessed all things. Good men are the friends of the gods, and among friends all things are held in common. Therefore, good men possess all things. This is recalled in Euripides’ Orestes:

Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων,

that is,

‘Among friends all things are one.’

Similarly in his Phoenissae,

Κοινὰ γὰρ φίλων ἄχη,

that is,

‘All pain is shared among friends.’

Similarly, in his Andromache:

Φίλων γὰρ οὐδὲν ἴδιον οἵτινες φίλοι

Ὀρθῶς πεφύκασ᾿, ἀλλὰ κοινὰ χρήματα,

that is,

‘Indeed, there is truly nothing private from friends, but all things are shared among them.’

Terence, in his Adelphi, writes:

‘This is indeed an old saying, that all things are common among friends.’

The same saying is said to have been found in the same play by Menander. Cicero, in the first book of his Duties, writes, ‘As it says in the Greek proverb, all things are common among friends.’ This saying is also mentioned by Aristotle in the eighth book of his Ethics, and by Plato in his fifth book of The Laws. In that spot, he tries to show that the happiest state of the republic consists in communal sharing of all things:  Πρώτη μὲν τοίνυν πόλις τέ ἐστι καὶ πολιτεία καὶ νόμοι ἄριστοι, ὅπου τὸ πάλαι λεγόμενον ἂν γίγνηται κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν πόλιν ὅτι μάλιστα· λέγεται δὲ ὡς ὄντως ἐστὶ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων, that is, the best city, best condition of the republic, and the best laws occur when that old saying is observed throughout the entire state as much as possible. For it is truly said that the affairs of friends are held in common.  Plato also said that that city will be fortunate and happy in which these words are never heard: ‘Mine’, and ‘not mine’. Yet, it is remarkable to say how displeasing that community of Plato’s appeared to Christians – nay, how they even assail it – since nothing more concordant with Christ’s thinking was ever spoken by an ethical philosopher. Aristotle, in Book II of the Politics, tempers Plato’s sentiment somewhat, since he wishes to see possession and private property in the hands of certain people, though he would have virtue and civil society run according to the proverb. Martial, in book II of his Epigrams, mocks a certain Candidus, who always had this proverb on his lips, though he did not otherwise share anything with his friends:

All things are common among friends. Are these the words, Candidus, which you pronounce so grandly all day and night?’ Martial then concludes the epigram, ‘You give nothing, Candidus, yet you claim that things are common among friends?’

Theophrastus puts it elegantly in his little commentary ‘On Brotherly Love’ (as cited by Plutarch): Εἰ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων ἐστί, μάλιστα δεῖ κοινοὺς τῶν φίλων εἶναι τοὺς φίλους, that is, if things are common among friends, it certainly follows that we should be friends with the friends of our friends. It seems that Cicero attributed this proverb to Pythagoras in the first book of his On the Laws when he writes, ‘From where comes that saying, τὰ φίλων κοινὰ καὶ φιλίαν ἰσότητα, that is the communal possessions of friends and friendship/equality? Further, Timaeus (cited in Diogenes Laertius) also claims that this saying first originated with Pythagoras. Aulus Gellius, in the first book of his Attic Nights, chapter nine, claims that Pythagoras was not just the author of this proverb, but he also even brought such a spirit of community to his life and means as Christ wished to see among all Christians. For indeed, whenever anyone had been accepted into Pythagoras’ school, they would first hand over their money and familial possessions into a communal pot. That is called the κοινόβιον, that is ‘communal living’, clearly derived from the communal association of life and fortune.”

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Amicorum communia omnia.i


Τὰ τῶν φίλων κοινά, id est Amicorum communia sunt omnia. Quoniam non aliud hoc proverbio neque salubrius neque celebratius, libuit hinc adagiorum recensionem velut omine felici auspicari. Quod quidem si tam esset fixum in hominum animis, quam nulli non est in ore, profecto maxima malorum parte vita nostra levaretur. Ex hoc proverbio Socrates colligebat omnia bonorum esse virorum non secus quam deorum. Deorum, inquit, sunt omnia. Boni viri deorum sunt amici, et amicorum inter se communia sunt omnia. Bonorum igitur virorum sunt omnia. Refertur apud Euripidem in Oreste :

Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων,

id est

Inter enim amicos cuncta sunt omnia.

Idem in Phoenissis :

Κοινὰ γὰρ φίλων ἄχη,

id est

Communis omnis est amicorum dolor.

Idem in Andromacha :

Φίλων γὰρ οὐδὲν ἴδιον οἵτινες φίλοι

Ὀρθῶς πεφύκασ᾿, ἀλλὰ κοινὰ χρήματα,

id est

Nam vere amicis proprium prorsus nihil,

Sed inter ipsos cuncta sunt communia.

Terentius in Adelphis :

Nam vetus quidem hoc verbum,

Amicorum inter se communia esse omnia.

Testantur et apud Menandrum fuisse in eadem fabula. M. Tullius libro Officiorum primo Ut in Graecorum, inquit, proverbio est, amicorum esse omnia communia. Citatur et ab Aristotele libro Moralium octavo et a Platone De legibus quinto. Quo loco conatur demonstrare felicissimum reipublicae statum rerum omnium communitate constare : Πρώτη μὲν τοίνυν πόλις τέ ἐστι καὶ πολιτεία καὶ νόμοι ἄριστοι, ὅπου τὸ πάλαι λεγόμενον ἂν γίγνηται κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν πόλιν ὅτι μάλιστα· λέγεται δὲ ὡς ὄντως ἐστὶ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων, id est Prima quidem igitur civitas est reipublicae status ac leges optimae, ubi quod jam olim dicitur, per omnem civitatem, quam maxime fieri potest, observabitur. Dictum est autem vere res amicorum communeis esse. Idem ait felicem ac beatam fore civitatem, in qua non audirentur haec verba : Meum, et non meum. Sed dictu mirum quam non placeat, immo quam lapidetur a Christianis Platonis illa communitas, cum nihil unquam ab ethnico philosopho dictum sit magis ex Christi sententia. Aristoteles libro Politicorum II temperat Platonis sententiam volens possessionem ac proprietatem esse penes certos, caeterum ob usum, virtutem et societatem civilem juxta proverbium. Martialis libro II jocatur in quendam Candidum, cui semper in ore fuerit hoc adagium, cum alioqui nihil impartiret amicis :

Candide, κοινὰ φίλων sunt haec tua, Candide, πάντα,

Quae tu magniloquus nocte dieque sonas ?

Atque ita concludit epigramma :

Das nihil et dicis, Candide, κοινὰ φίλων ?

Eleganter Theophrastus apud Plutarchum in commentariolo, cui titulus Περὶ φιλαδελφίας : Εἰ κοινὰ τὰ φίλων ἐστί, μάλιστα δεῖ κοινοὺς τῶν φίλων εἶναι τοὺς φίλους, id est Si res amicorum communes, maxime convenit, ut amicorum item amici sint communes. M. Tullio libro De legibus primo videtur hoc adagium Pythagorae tribuere, cum ait : Unde enim illa Pythagorica vox, τὰ φίλων κοινὰ καὶ φιλίαν ἰσότητα, id est res amicorum communes et amicitiam aequalitatem. Praeterea Timaeus apud Diogenem Laertium tradit hoc dictum primum a Pythagora profectum fuisse. A. Gellius Noctium Atticarum libro primo, capite nono testatur Pythagoram non solum hujus sententiae parentem fuisse, verumetiam hujusmodi quandam vitae ac facultatum communionem induxisse, qualem Christus inter omneis Christianos esse vult. Nam quicumque ab illo in cohortem illam disciplinarum recepti fuissent, quod quisque pecuniae familiaeque habebant, in medium dabant ; quod re atque verbo Romano appellatur κοινόβιον, id est coenobium, nimirum a vitae fortunarumque societate.

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